The Los Angeles Dodgers are experiencing late-inning struggles since the All-Star break. The Dodgers have lost six out of the 12 games since the All-Star break. Five of the six losses were lost due to plays in the eighth inning or later. One loss was a one-run game where the San Francisco Giants added four runs in the seventh inning to extend the lead to five runs. Five blown saves came in those six losses – two of which came in the same game. Two losses came in the tenth inning. Worse than anything else for the Dodgers, four of the six losses came from their NL West rival Giants. This now places the Dodgers two games behind the Giants in the NL West. But the late-inning struggles for the Dodgers may not be as bad as they seem to be on the surface.
Dodgers Bullpen Late-Inning Struggles
Many Dodger fans may be quick to put much of the blame on Kenley Jansen, but it is not all Kenley’s fault. Kenley blew a save opportunity on July 18th for the Dodgers at the Colorado Rockies, which was the first time he had pitched since July 11th. Jansen does not have a good time in Colorado. In 2018, the longtime Dodgers closer underwent an ablation procedure to address a heart condition that led to an atrial fibrillation episode that he suffered in Colorado. The heart condition causes an irregular heartbeat, especially at high altitudes. But the ablation procedure should take care of that problem, so Jansen should not be experiencing such problems in the future. What led to the blown save was good hitting by the Rockies.
Ryan McMahon doubled to centerfield with no outs on a one-ball and two-strikes count with the bases empty. Jansen threw a low curveball on the inside corner. The pitch had great movement and placement, but McMahon hit it to the wall. McMahon then scored on a single from Chris Owings. Jansen’s pitch was a 95 MPH fastball on the inside edge of the plate. The pitch was lower than Will Smith called for by about six inches and ended in a position where Owings generally hits for a high average and exit velocity. The Dodgers were able to score the go-ahead run in the tenth inning on Will Smith’s RBI single. But Phil Bickford then blew the second-chance save opportunity on an RBI sacrifice fly by Trevor Story and a walk-off solo home run by Charlie Blackmon in the bottom half of the tenth.
Bullpen Struggles Continue
On July 19th against the Giants, Tony Gonsolin left the game after only 3 1/3 innings. In that quick outing, Gonsolin gave up three runs on two home runs. With the Dodgers behind 3-2 and one out in the seventh, Victor Gonzalez came in to replace Bickford. Victor was not at his best that night. Gonzalez then gave up a pair of singles before allowing an RBI sacrifice fly to Jason Vosler, who is hitting .197. Gonzalez then gave up a pair of doubles to allow three more runs to score before striking out Darin Ruf to end the inning. With the four runs on the board, the score was 7-2 to end the seventh, which was the final score.
Jansen blew another save on July 21st against the Giants. Buster Posey hit a single to bring up Wilmer Flores with no outs in the ninth and the Dodgers leading 2-1. With the first pitch in the at-bat, Flores hit a sharp bouncer to third base, which was called foul. But the ball could have been called fair just as easily. The ball bounced just outside the line, in foul territory but beyond third base. But the ball bounced so closely to the chalk that it may have crossed over the third-base bag as a fair ball as opposed to passing third base in foul territory as it was called by the third-base umpire. The third baseman, Sheldon Neuse, was in front of the third-base umpire at the time. Flores subsequently hit his first career home run off of Kenley Jansen. The Giants took the win 4-2.
Bad Umpiring, Bad Pitching, Bad Fielding, Bad Baseball
In July 22nd’s game against the Giants, the Dodgers were leading 3-1 heading into the ninth inning. Kenley Jansen took the ball to close out the game. With two outs and the bases loaded Thairo Estrada hit a ground ball to Chris Taylor at shortstop. Taylor threw the ball to second base instead of first and Neuse did not stretch for the ball as a first baseman generally does. The second-base umpire originally signaled out but was overturned by way of instant replay. Now the score was 3-2 with two outs and the bases loaded and Ruf stepping up to the plate.
The umpires were playing a hand in the Dodgers’ losses as well. Strike zones were loose and some calls were just plain terrible. One call, in particular, came from the first-base umpire on a check swing by Ruf for ball four. This definitely was a bad call. Ruf went too far with his swing for it to not be called strike three on a 3-2 count. But there was another bad call during Ruf’s at-bat and the call went the Dodgers’ way. On a 2-0 cutter thrown by Jansen that was way outside, the home-plate umpire called it a strike, but it was actually a ball. This is not to say that Jansen would not have answered back with another strike if the count had gone to 3-0. But the fact remains that there were at least two bad calls during Ruf’s at-bat. The Giants won the game 5-3.
Dodgers Late-Inning Struggles Continue, but Not From Jansen
The Dodgers blew another save opportunity on July 23rd against the Rockies. This time, Brusdar Graterol came in to pitch the eighth inning with a 5-3 lead. After giving up a run on two hits and getting two outs, Darien Nunez came in to pitch for Graterol. With a 5-4 lead and two outs in the eighth, Nunez promptly gave up an RBI single to Ryan McMahon on his first pitch to tie the score at five. Then with the score tied in the ninth, Nunez gave up a go-ahead solo homer to Sam Hilliard. The blown save that night was Nunez’s, not Jansen’s. The Dodgers lost to the Rockies 9-6.
Belli’s Fielding Mishap
In July 27th’s game against the Giants, there was no blown save, but there was a rare fielding mishap by Cody Bellinger in the eighth inning. Max Muncy fielded a ground ball at second base and began to run after a baserunner, Mike Yastrzemski, who was on his way to second base from first. Muncy threw the ball to first base to record the force-out. This left Bellinger with at least three options: throw the ball to second base for a potential tag out on Yastrzemski; throw the ball to third base for a potential tag out on Posey, who was rounding third base; or hold the ball and let both runners be safe.
Bellinger chose to throw the ball to third base for a potential tag out on Posey, but Max Muncy seemingly expected Bellinger to throw the ball to second base and ran in front of Bellinger’s throwing lane to third base. As a result, Bellinger’s throw to third base sailed well over Justin Turner’s head and Posey scored. That run was the winning run and put the Dodgers three games behind the Giants.
Why It’s Not as Bad as It Seems
Many of the Dodgers’ late-inning struggles are either from players that are filling a position for injured players or from players that recently returned from injury. Victor Gonzalez gave up four runs on the same night he was activated from the 10-day disabled list. There was no rehab assignment and he was great on his next outing. Taylor is playing shortstop for the injured Corey Seager. Bellinger missed most of April, May, and some of June. Bellinger may not have been playing first base if Seager was also active. Graterol recently returned from the injured list. Nunez is now in Oklahoma City with the Dodgers AAA affiliate.
With all of the injuries on the Dodgers roster, there is a lot to look forward to for Dodgers fans. Corey Seager is on a rehab assignment and may return before August. Clayton Kershaw is close to either returning to the lineup or pitching in a rehab game. Corey Knebel, who amassed 39 saves and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings of work in 2017, is on a rehab assignment. Mookie Betts will hopefully return in about a week. And, at some point, the Dodgers hope that Trevor Bauer will return to action. Add all of this together and the Dodgers are not in that bad of a position heading into August. The Dodgers are only two games behind the Giants and still have one more game to play in San Francisco before heading to Arizona.
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Kenley Jansen, Ryan McMahon, Chris Owings, Phil Bickford, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, Tony Gonsolin, Victor Gonzalez, Jason Vosler, Darin Ruf, Buster Posey, Wilmer Flores, Sheldon Neuse, Thairo Estrada, Chris Taylor, Brusdar Graterol, Darien Nunez, Sam Hilliard, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Mike Yastrzemski, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Knebel, Mookie Betts, Trevor Bauer